Verwaayen hired as BT chief executive on £10m package

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BT yesterday named Ben Verwaayen as its new chief executive and handed out a salary package that could net him some £10m over the coming three years.

Mr Verwaayen, who is replacing the current chief executive Sir Peter Bonfield, was said to have been the "top choice" from a shortlist of four candidates.

He joins from the troubled US technology firm Lucent Technologies where he is currently vice chairman. Prior to joining Lucent, he spent 10 years at the Dutch telecoms company KPN as president and managing director of PTT Telecom.

The Dutchman, who will not officially start until 1 February, willget to work straight away to find a replacement for finance director Philip Hampton. He expects his last day at Lucent will be next Tuesday.

"What I hope I bring to BT is strategy, energy and customer focus," Mr Verwaayen said, adding: "This is a great company, a great brand, a great set of customers, a decisive board and a persuasive chairman. That, altogether, is a pretty powerful cocktail."

The 49-year-old, who starts at BT on 14 January, will be paid £700,000 a year, slightly less than the £780,000 salary Sir Peter received last year, but will receive £1m worth of shares in the company as a "golden hello".

Under the terms of his contract, Mr Verwaayen will also get an annual bonus, up to a maximum of 130 per cent of his salary, which will be matched by another bonus paid in shares.

The new chief executive is also investing £1m of his own money into the company, which will be matched by BT with £1m of shares. Share options will be issued at four times salary.

Sir Christopher Bland, BT's chairman, said he believed Mr Verwaayen was the right man for the job thanks to his broad range of experiences.

"He has worked in the United States and a European regu-lated environment. He's been through culture change and major downsizing. He has a reputation for being open, decisive and capable of taking tough decisions and he has a sense of humour. That's why we picked him," said Sir Christopher.

Nevertheless, analysts expressed surprise at the appointment, mainly because they had expected BT to hire a more well-known candidate. The shares fell 4.75p to 256.5p.

Paul Mount, a telecoms analyst at Credit Lyonnais, said: "Clearly he's not an industry big-hitter. But you have to give him the benefit of the doubt and we'll be keen to hear what his views are on the restructuring and whether he'd want to break up the business further."

Analysts said they were also reserving judgement on how well Mr Verwaayen would get along with Sir Christopher, who has himself acknowledged that he is "difficult".

Mr Verwaayen, said he was looking forward to working with a chairman who was renowned for being "outspoken".

"He [Sir Christopher] brings things to the table that I couldn't even aspire to have like political contacts. I am very happy he is an involved chairman. Besides which, I like debate, I like dialogue and I like constructive conflict. I don't see a problem, I see only big upside," he said.

Despite speculation BT maysell or demerge further assets, Sir Christopher and Mr Verwaayen were yesterday keeping quiet on their plans for the firm.

"I'm not making any bold statements. That would be extremely arrogant. You should give me the opportunity to get my hands dirty and my feet wet," Mr Verwaayen said.